As recounted in the gospel of Luke (2:22–40), forty days after giving birth, Mary took the baby Jesus to the temple, where the aged Anna and Simeon prophesied his destiny. Giovanni di Paolo based the design of this picture on a work by Gentile da Fabriano that he saw in Florence, but he translated the naturalism of Gentile's art into his own intensely expressive style. The scene belongs to a series that formed the base (predella) of an altarpiece dating to the mid-1430s. One of the main panels of that altarpiece also belongs to the Metropolitan Museum (88.3.111). For a reconstruction, see metmuseum.org/collections.
The Presentation of Christ, also known as the Purification of the Virgin, took place forty days after the birth of Jesus and is described in the gospel of Luke 2:22–40. Mary and Joseph took the child to the temple, bringing with them two pigeons or turtledoves to sacrifice. There they encountered the aged prophetess Anna, and Simeon, who God had promised would not die before seeing the savior of Israel. Simeon took the child, blessing God, and prophesied Jesus’s ministry and Mary’s sorrow. In Giovanni di Paolo’s depiction, Joseph carries a white pigeon required for sacrifice. The two luxuriously dressed women on one side of the temple portico make a striking contrast with the beggars on the opposite side.
Together with a series of panels showing the Annunciation (painted surface 38.7 x 44.7 cm; National Gallery of Art, Washington), the Nativity (38.7 x 44.3 cm; Pinacoteca Vaticana), the Crucifixion (39 x 53.8 cm; Gemäldegalerie, Berlin), and the Adoration of the Magi (39.3 x 44.2 cm; Cleveland Museum of Art), this work formed the base, or predella, of an important altarpiece. Three of these scenes adapt in a highly original fashion compositions deriving from Gentile da Fabriano's famous Adoration of the Magi altarpiece of 1423, painted for the Strozzi chapel in Santa Trinita, Florence (Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence). In the Presentation Giovanni di Paolo has retained the figural parts of Gentile’s composition, but he has treated the space in a less consistent fashion and altered the architecture of the buildings, notably introducing a plunging view into the interior of the church and adding the priest standing behind the altar, as in Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s Presentation in the Temple, then in the cathedral of Siena (Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence). This blending of visual sources is typical of the artist, the result always being a highly original composition. Giovanni also added the broken pavement and opening in the ground in the lower right.
The predella has been generally dated to about 1440. Pope-Hennessy (1988) has suggested that the series may have come from an altarpiece commissioned from Giovanni di Paolo in 1440 for a chapel in the infirmary of the hospital of Santa Maria della Scala. De Marchi (1992) and Boskovits (2003) proposed instead that the series belonged to an altarpiece that had at its center a Madonna and Child (fragmentary, 84.5 x 56.7 cm; Monte dei Paschi di Siena), on the left a panel with Saints Catherine of Alexandria(?) and John the Baptist (also fragmentary, 104.5 x 44.5 cm; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston), and on the right a panel with Saints Matthew and Francis (MMA 88.3.111). This altarpiece had previously been associated by Pope-Hennessy with a work formerly in the church of San Francesco, Siena (in the Fondi or Tondi chapel), and dated 1436. Boskovits found the date in the mid-1430s acceptable for both the main panels and the predella series catalogued here, but rejected the association with the work in San Francesco. His reconstruction has been accepted by Sallay (2010) and De Marchi (2012): see Additional Images. The Fondi or Tondi chapel was dedicated to Saint James, who is not shown in this altarpiece. The original destination of this reconstructed altarpiece, one of Giovanni's most impressive, therefore remains uncertain. For further discussion, see the entry for 88.3.111.
[Keith Christiansen 2014]
Giovanni Rosini, Pisa (by about 1830–at least 1850; as attributed to Ambrogio Lorenzetti and as attributed to the brother of Fra Angelico); Charles Noel Carnegie, 10th Earl of Southesk, Kinnaird Castle, Brechin, Scotland (from 1905; sold to Douglas); [R. Langton Douglas, London, ?in about 1912]; George Blumenthal, New York (by 1921–41; cat., vol. 1, 1926, pl. XXVI)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Loan Exhibition of the Arts of the Italian Renaissance," May 7–September 9, 1923, no. 10 (lent by George and Florence Blumenthal).
Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. "30 Masterpieces: An Exhibition of Paintings from the Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art," October 4–November 23, 1947, unnumbered cat.
Iowa City. State University of Iowa, School of Fine Arts. "30 Masterpieces: An Exhibition of Paintings from the Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art," January 9–March 31, 1948, unnumbered cat.
Bloomington. Indiana University. "30 Masterpieces: An Exhibition of Paintings from the Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art," April 18–May 16, 1948, no catalogue.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Giovanni di Paolo: Paintings," August 14–October 8, 1973, no. 2.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Painting in Renaissance Siena: 1420–1500," December 20, 1988–March 19, 1989, no. 31.
Siena. Santa Maria della Scala, Opera della Metropolitana and Pinacoteca Nazionale. "Da Jacopo della Quercia a Donatello: le arti a Siena nel primo rinascimento," March 26–July 11, 2010, no. C.14.
Ettore Romagnoli. Biografia cronologica de' bellartisti senesi, 1200–1800. Vol. 2, Florence, [ca. 1830], p. 256/2, as in the collection of Professore Rosini; attributes it to Ambrogio Lorenzetti.
Giovanni Rosini. Storia della pittura italiana esposta coi monumenti. Vol. 2, Pisa, 1840, pp. 257, 261 n. 23 [2nd ed., vol. 3, 1850, p. 41 n. 32, ill. opp. p. 36], attributes it tentatively to the brother of Fra Angelico, noting that Romagnoli [see Ref. 1830] ascribed it to Ambrogio Lorenzetti; mentions that there is a predella panel of the same composition in Paris, attributed to Gentile da Fabriano in the catalogue of the museum.
F. Mason Perkins. "Some Sienese Paintings in American Collections: Part Four." Art in America 9 (February 1921), pp. 45–46, fig. 1, as in the Blumenthal collection, New York; attributes it to Giovanni di Paolo and dates it to the first half of his career; notes the influence of Sassetta, and states that the composition is based on Ambrogio Lorenzetti's altarpiece of the Presentation (Uffizi, Florence); lists two other works by Giovanni of the same subject (Pinacoteca nazionale, Siena, no. 211; and church of the Conservatorio di S. Pietro at Colle di Val d'Elsa).
Stella Rubinstein-Bloch. Catalogue of the Collection of George and Florence Blumenthal. Vol. 1, Paintings—Early Schools. Paris, 1926, unpaginated, pl. XXVI.
Raimond van Marle. The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting. Vol. 9, Late Gothic Painting in Tuscany. The Hague, 1927, p. 422, dates it about 1445.
Lionello Venturi. Pitture italiane in America. Milan, 1931, unpaginated, pl. CXXVIII.
Bernhard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Oxford, 1932, p. 246, as "Circumcision"; calls it an early work.
Marialuisa Gengaro. "Eclettismo e arte nel Quattrocento senese." La Diana 7 (1932), pp. 15, 29, pl. 7, notes its dependence on Gentile da Fabriano's predella panel (Louvre, Paris) of the same subject from his altarpiece of the Adoration of the Magi (Uffizi, Florence).
Lionello Venturi. Italian Paintings in America. Vol. 1, Romanesque and Gothic. New York, 1933, unpaginated, pl. 156.
Bernhard Berenson. Pitture italiane del rinascimento. Milan, 1936, p. 212.
John Pope-Hennessy. Giovanni di Paolo, 1403–1483. London, 1937, pp. 37–40, 54 n. 92, p. 173, identifies it as part of the same predella as the "Expulsion of Adam and Eve and the Annunciation" (National Gallery of Art, Washington; 1939.1.223), the "Nativity" (Pinacoteca Vaticana, Rome), and the "Crucifixion" (SMPK, Berlin); calls it "a straightforward copy" of Gentile's panel in the Louvre; dates the series shortly before 1445.
Cesare Brandi. "Giovanni di Paolo." Le arti 3 (April–May 1941), p. 243 n. 32, p. 245 n. 36, accepts Pope-Hennessy's [see Ref. 1937] identification of the four panels of the predella, and erroneously describes the MMA panel as 6 cm shorter than the others.
Henry Sayles Francis. "A New Giovanni di Paolo." Art Quarterly 5 (1942), pp. 317–18, 322, fig. 3, adds the "Adoration of the Magi" (Cleveland Museum of Art) as the fifth panel of the predella.
Henry S. Francis. "An 'Adoration of the Magi' by Giovanni di Paolo." Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art 29 (December 1942), pp. 166–67.
Harry B. Wehle. "The Presentation in the Temple by Giovanni di Paolo." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 3 (April 1945), pp. 185–88, ill. on cover (color).
Cesare Brandi. Giovanni di Paolo. Florence, 1947, pp. 72–74 nn. 32, 36, p. 120 [similar text to Ref. Brandi 1941], accepts Francis's [see Ref. 1942] addition of the fifth panel of the predella.
Cesare Brandi. Quattrocentisti senesi. Milan, 1949, p. 260, dates the predella about 1445.
Fern Rusk Shapley. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. Vol. 1, Italian Schools: XIII–XV Century. London, 1966, p. 148, under no. K412, accepts the identifications of the five panels of the predella, and the dating of about 1445.
Bernard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Central Italian and North Italian Schools. London, 1968, vol. 1, pp. 175–76, 178, 180, 182.
Carol Herselle Krinsky. "Representations of the Temple of Jerusalem before 1500." Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 33 (1970), p. 10, pl. 2C.
Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 90, 274, 607.
Elizabeth Ourusoff De Fernandez-Gimenez in "European Paintings Before 1500." The Cleveland Museum of Art: Catalogue of Paintings. Part 1, Cleveland, 1974, pp. 103–4.
Robert Oertel and Hans-Joachim Eberhardt inCatalogue of Paintings, 13th–18th Century. 2nd, rev. ed. Berlin-Dahlem, 1978, p. 180, under no. 1112C [German ed., 1975, p. 174], date the predella about 1440–45.
Denys Sutton. "Robert Langton Douglas, Part III, XV: The War Years." Apollo 109 (June 1979), p. 436, fig. 19.
Federico Zeri with the assistance of Elizabeth E. Gardner. Italian Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Sienese and Central Italian Schools. New York, 1980, pp. 27–28, pl. 45, question the inclusion of the Crucifixion in Berlin as part of the predella; date the series about 1440.
John Pope-Hennessy. "Giovanni di Paolo." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 46 (Fall 1988), pp. 11, 13, fig. 9 (color), dates the five panels about 1440, and suggests that they may have formed the predella of an altarpiece commissioned from Giovanni di Paolo for the Spedale della Scala in 1440.
Carl Brandon Strehlke inPainting in Renaissance Siena: 1420–1500. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1988, pp. 189–91, no. 31, ill. (overall and in reconstruction of predella), accepts the inclusion of the Berlin Crucifixion as part of the predella; dates the series to the early 1440s, and definitely before 1445.
Andrea De Marchi. Gentile da Fabriano: Un viaggio nella pittura italiana alla fine del gotico. Milan, 1992, p. 190 n. 83, p. 211 nn. 33–34.
Andrew Ladis. "Sources and Resources: The Lost Sketchbooks of Giovanni di Paolo." The Craft of Art: Originality and Industry in the Italian Renaissance and Baroque Workshop. Ed. Andrew Ladis and Carolyn Wood. Athens, Ga., 1995, pp. 59, 67, 83 n. 19, fig. 21.
Miklós Boskovits inItalian Paintings of the Fifteenth Century. Washington, 2003, pp. 326, 328, 330 nn. 19, 21, 24, p. 331 n. 38, fig. 1 (reconstruction), proposes that the predella of which this is one panel belongs with a set of elements (Saints Catherine and John the Baptist in the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Madonna and Child in the Banca Monte dei Paschi, Siena; Saints Matthew and Francis in the MMA) that is sometimes identified with the Fondi altarpiece in San Francesco in Siena; dates the entire assembly about 1435.
Alessandro Marchi inGentile da Fabriano and the Other Renaissance. Ed. Laura Laureati and Lorenza Mochi Onori. Exh. cat., Spedale di Santa Maria del Buon Gesù, Fabriano. Milan, 2006, p. 300 [Italian ed., "Gentile da Fabriano e l'altro Rinascimento"].
Dóra Sallay inDa Jacopo della Quercia a Donatello: le arti a Siena nel primo rinascimento. Ed. Max Seidel. Exh. cat., Santa Maria della Scala et al., Siena. Milan, 2010, pp. 214, 216, no. C.14, ill. pp. 214 (reconstruction), 217 (color).
Andrea De Marchi. La pala d'altare dal polittico alla pala quadra. Florence, 2012, pp. 101–2, accepts Sallay's reconstruction, suggesting that rather than a relic, a grill occupied a space beneath the Virgin and Child in the center panel.
Emanuele Zappasodi. "Ambrogio Lorenzetti 'huomo di grande ingegno': un polittico fuori canone e due tavole dimenticate." Nuovi studi 20 (2014), pp. ?, ill. (color, altarpiece reconstruction), accepts the reconstruction of Sallay.
Mattia Biffis. "A Rediscovered 'St Jerome' on Copper by Guido Reni and its Early Provenance." Burlington Magazine 158 (August 2016), p. 614.